As we have mentioned before, most builders in Hot Springs Village are experienced at building homes from almost any kinds of drawings that people bring in.
But be forewarned that these builders are normally not architects and despite their experience, plans drawn by an amateur and built by a non-architect could result in design flaws that could reduce the price you could get if you ever had to resell your house. Worse yet, they could result in costly structural and/or design flaws.
As long as your house uses basic building styles and structures, you should not have a problem, but if your plan has any structural oddities to it, you should have it checked by an architect. And try to use a builder who has previously built homes in a style and structure similar to yours.
If you are building a $300,000 house and hire an architect to see you through from drawing blue prints through getting the house built, you could add as much as $45,000 to the cost of your house.
If you had already budgeted $300,000 for a house, you may have to make a lot of sacrifices to bring the cost of the house down so that you can afford to pay an architect. Or you may be able to afford the extra $45k, but then you start thinking of all the things you could add to the house for that much money. So the question is if an architect is worth the cost.
Quality-wise, there is little doubt that the best place to get a floor plan which best meets your needs and desires is to hire an architect.
Not only can an architect create a well-designed floor plan which meets your needs, you can be sure that the house will be structurally sound. If your house is to be anything other than a basic box, this one thing alone can be enough to pay back the cost of hiring an architect.
Another factor is that there is artistry in home design, supplemented by years of study and experience. A superior design can potentially add more value to your home than the cost of the architect.
An architect may also be familiar with builders in your area and thus know which ones to seek out and which to avoid. He will also know how much it should cost to build his plan, which gives him and you an edge in shopping for a builder.
An architect can charge a flat fee, an hourly fee, a percentage (typically 5%-15%) of the total construction cost, or a flat fee for the fixed work such as consulting with you and drawing up plans and an hourly fee for open-ended work such as on-site inspections and changes to the plans. By choosing how much work you want the architect to do, you can bring down the fee.
A wide variety of books/magazines of floor plans are available. These publications can be found in grocery store magazine racks, book stores, and libraries. Odds are that you can find a plan you like in one of these publications, and most of these plans will have been drawn by architects.
From these magazines, for a few hundred bucks, you can get a complete set of full, buildable floor plans for any design that you like. You can even order extra copies for various subcontractors if you are not making changes to the plans.
If you do want changes made, you can usually order them from the publisher of the floor plan; otherwise, your builder will probably have to draw a new set of plans to work from and to give his subs.
Even if you decide to draw your own floor plan, these books and magazines can teach you a lot about good design, as well as giving you some good ideas. In addition, modifying a plan (as I did for Judy's house) instead of drawing one from scratch (as for our house) makes it less likely that you will create any architectural or structural problems.
If you draw your own plans, don't expect it to save you money. The builder (and ultimately, you) will still have to pay to get your drawings put in the form of real blueprints for submission to the building committee.
Compare room sizes, not square footage!! The square footage of the main floor of our house is 2700 sq.ft., yet I have seen plans in magazines, on the Internet, and on flyers of homes for sale where the square footage of the house is shown as being the same or more than ours, but the sizes of the rooms were smaller! Further down the page is a full example of this.
I tried a lot of different floor plan computer software programs in creating our floor plan. The features these floor-plan programs have for around $50 is absolutely amazing.
Not only is it easy to draw floor plans with them, they let you view the inside of the house in 3D as if you were walking through it. A library of drawings of many different types of furniture can be used to furnish the house, and the furnishings can also be viewed in either 2D or 3D.
I chose the program "FloorPlan Plus 3D" because it allows you to draw your own furniture (using a companion 3D CAD program) which can be put into your floor plan. This was in 1997 or so. I'm not sure that this program is still available, so shop around for what's new.
Since we planned to use our existing furniture in the new house (and since I enjoy playing with these programs), I took the time to draw our furniture. This proved really worthwhile in deciding room dimensions and layout.
On the left is a picture of the living room in the drawing program and the way it turned out. We had considered putting the television against the far wall, but experimentation in the 3D mode showed that there would not be enough room to get around the sofa with it turned facing the other way.
An alternative to drawing your furniture into the floor plan is to print out the floor plan, then measure your furniture and cut some construction paper to the same scale of feet-per-inch as the floor plan. Then you can place the "furniture" on the floor plan to make sure it fits.
Another alternative is to use a graphics program on your computer to draw a rough floorplan. Don't forget to allow for the approximately 4" thickness of walls. I did Judy's floor plan this way (using Paint Shop Pro) because I was modifying an existing plan rather than designing a plan from scratch, but it was a great deal more trouble than using floor plan software. (My old software would not run on the current version of Windows.) While the printout looks better and is easier to modify than a hand drawing, it will NOT be completely accurate. Expect the final blueprint to be different due to things like rounding room dimensions, etc.
When the plan was done, I was concerned about how the kitchen cabinets would fit in and how many, so I did a vertical drawing of them. That was not too hard to do and proved to be useful.
The wall with no corner cabinets was easy, but the cabinets on two walls meeting at a corner was more difficult. Because the front edge of the upper cabinets is set back a foot from the front edge of the base cabinets, when you go around the corner, they no longer line up vertically in a 2-dimension drawing.
When I finally realized this, I made a 3-dimension model of those two walls.
While this model would not earn an A+ in architectural school, it was enough to help me fine tune the layout of the cabinets, including changing the corner to an angled unit with lazy Susans and an appliance garage between the base and upper cabinets. When I showed this to Jim Buss, he could quickly see that I had made the corner cabinet a little too small and suggested reducing the other cabinets in order to enlarge it, making it easier to get things in and out of it.
Go to Google and search for "floor plans" and you will find tons of plans. You can order plans online, but if you think that you will want to make major changes to a plan that you see, you can save the picture of the floorplan to disk or just print it out (by right-clicking it), make the changes you want, and show them to a builder. You will not save too much money versus buying the plans online because the builder will have to get real blue prints drawn for submission to get a building permit.
Cooper Communities is no longer building homes in HSV, but their Lynnwood plan has always been very popular and the general layout can be seen in many plans on the internet. Its popularity stems from several features:
The only major drawback I see in the above floor plan is that you have to go through the kitchen, dining room, master bedroom and bath to carry laundry between the master closet and the laundry room. Compare this to our floor plan and to Judy's floor plan where the laundry room is next to the master closet where most of the laundry comes from and goes to. In addition, Judy's layout lets you go straight from the master closet out to the garage which, again, is more efficient if you are getting dressed to go out and can go straight out to the garage. Likewise, if you've been working in the garage or yard, you can cut straight through to the master bath to wash up or use the toilet.
This plan also illustrates the point made earlier about comparing room sizes, not square footage of the house. This plan says it has 1718 sq. ft. and Judy's (shown further down) is 1653. Here is the room size comparison (Judy's taken from her blueprint):
|Cooper's||Judy's||Coop. SF||Judy SF||Diff.|
|Living Room||14'4"x19'10"*(1)||14'4" x 19'6"||284.25||279.50||+4.75|
|Dining Room||13'4" x 15'8"||14'10" x 10'4"||209.00||153.25||+56.75|
|Kitchen||14'4 x 13'0"*(2)||14'10" x 12'6"||186.33||185.83||+0.50|
|Laundry||11'0" x 5'8"||10'10" x 6'0"||62.33||65.00||-2.67|
|Entry||8'2" x 5'6"||6'0" x 5'10"||45.00||36.00||+9.00|
|Guest Hall||3'0" x 5'0"||8'4" x 5'8"||15.00||47.25||-32.25|
|Guest B/R 1||12'0" x 9'0"||13'8"x11'6"||108.00||157.00||-49.00|
|Guest B/R 2||12'0 x 11'0"||17'8" x 12'10"||132.00||226.75||-94.75|
|Guest Bath||5'0" x 9'0"||12' x 5'6"||45.00||66.00||-21.00|
|Guest Closets||9'4" x 4'8"||9'4" x 4'8"||43.55||43.55||0.00|
|Master B/R||13'0" x 15'8"||17'0" x 15'0"||204.00||255.00||-51.00|
|Master Bath||11'10" x 10'4"||9'0" x 12'0"||122.25||108.00||+12.00|
|Mast.Closet||12'0" x 8.0||7'4" x 12'0"||96.00||88.00||+8.00|
|Front Porch||8'4" x 3'8"||22'0" x 6'0"||30.55||132.00||-101.45|
|Back Patio||22' x 10'||28' x 10'||220.00||280.00||-60.00|
Judy's floor plan is roughly 160 sq.ft. more than Cooper's, although Cooper says their's is 68 sq.ft. more than Judy's. (This doesn't count the outside space, where Judy's plan has 160 sq.ft. more than Cooper's.) This is not unique to Cooper -- it is a common situation, but I don't know how to explain it.
*(1)Lower-right corner of L/R is used for hallway and bath.
*(2)Upper-right and lower-right corners of kitchen are out of kitchen.
I spent a couple of years studying floor plans and drawing my own. We wanted the house to be all on one level so that we would not have to climb up and down stairs in our old age. We also wanted the rooms to be arranged such that we could be within easy sight and sound of each other even when in different rooms. At the same time, we wanted to be able to close doors when privacy or quiet is needed, which cannot be done with a completely open floor plan.
I finally came up with a floor plan that had everything we wanted and had it all laid out just the way we wanted.
However, the plan allowed for a view of a golf course (or lake) out the back of the house. The lot we picked in Hot Springs Village has views down two fairways which are out the front and left side of the house. (See map - our lot is in red.)
So my "perfect" floor plan had to be completely redone. (See Evolution of Our Floor Plan.)
I went through a dozen or more different layouts before finally settling on one that maximized the views, but not without making a disturbing compromise or two.
|One design problem was that we wanted a formal dining room, but since it would be used much less than the other rooms, we did not want to take any of the view away from those rooms in order to give the dining room a view. As a result, the dining room is in the middle of the house and thus has no windows.|
This bothered me enough to talk to an architect about it, but he said not to worry about what is supposed to be "good design" and to go with what works for us. This is rather casual advice if you may have to worry about resale value, but we hope to be here a long time, so we left the dining room alone.
After having our house built, I found out that Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, which has been called the best known private residence in the world by one of the greatest architects who ever lived, has the dining room tucked into a dark space away from all the windows, and the reason given is that you would normally be entertaining at night when it is dark anyway. With all modesty -- that was my thinking exactly.
Another unusual feature is that we have extra doors between the living room and master bedroom and between the kitchen and study/bedroom. (See the floor plan.) If these were the only entrances to those rooms, it would be questionable design, but since we have the usual hallways leading to those rooms, we think the added convenience justifies the somewhat unusual design.
In fact, every room in the house has at least two doors except the guest bedroom. An extra benefit of these doors is the ability to open them to get air circulation throughout the house.
One other feature of convenience worth mentioning is the door from the master closet to the laundry room. (Upper right corner of floor plan.) Since 99% of our laundry will be coming from the dirty clothes hamper in the master closet and going back into the master closet, having the laundry just off the master closet makes a lot of sense. (Compare this route to the Cooper plan, above, where you must carry clothes from the master closet, through the bathroom, through the master bedroom, past the dining room, and through the kitchen - and back.)
We originally had the study off of the living room, but in trying to reduce the size of the house, we decided to get rid of the separate study and make a study out of one of the guest bedrooms with a sleeper sofa in it for company. (Upper-left corner of floor plan.)
|The two desks go along the windows with great views, so this worked out well. Also, we turned what would have been a rarely used 2nd guest bedroom into a room that is used every day, but can still double as a place for guests to sleep.|
In addition, the living room furniture we brought with us includes a sleeper sofa. For this reason, we put double pocket doors in the entry to the living room so that it could be closed off when we have company sleeping in there. On the other hand, since we shouldn't need to close off the den, we did not put doors on its entryway from the hall.
One last sleeping area is the loft. Since the loft space was just "free" space we got when raising the ceiling on the den, we wanted to put as little extra cost into it as possible. For that reason, we did not put a bathroom up in the loft area. Because of that and because it is up a spiral staircase, we see the loft sleeping area as being for kids. We have a trundle bed in the loft which pulls out into two single beds. We also put a ping-pong table in the loft, which has turned out to be very popular and is a lot better than going out to the garage to play.
|So although we only have one dedicated guest bedroom, we have four rooms where guests can sleep. Our last house was larger than this one, but we only used about half the floor space, so we actually have a lot more usable floor space in this house. The only room in the whole house which we are not in every day is the guest bedroom, and it is also the smallest room.|
A Closeable Open Concept
Although our floorplan does not technically have what is considered an "open concept" (except between the kitchen and den), there is a lot of openess among the rooms while still having the option of closing off rooms for privacy or quiet when needed.
|The living room has a nice view out the front of the house (left), but you can also look through the den and the views out the side of the house (right).|
||The study/guest-room has its own scenery out the side of the house (left) and also looks through the kitchen and breakfast nook into the den and the views in front (right).|
Another feature of this floor plan is that the spaces are flexible -- they could be furnished for uses other that what we have done.
|In fact, for 8.5 years, we
had a formal living room in
addition to a den/game-room
with a pool table.
|Then we got rid of the pool
table and rearranged the sofas
and chairs to turn the den/game
room into the Living Room.
This, then, allowed us to turn what was formerly the Living Room into a dedicated Home Theater.
Or the home theater room could be turned into a study/library (lots of shelves), and the guest bedroom we use for a study could be turned back into a dedicated bedroom.
The 15'x30' loft could be used for any number of things. We have a ping-pong table and a day bed up there, but the ping-pong table could be used for doing crafts, building a model train layout, etc. Or the loft could be converted into another bedroom and bath.
|Front elevation||Side elevation|
The elevation of a house is the exterior design. While I was able to draw a floor plan based on our specific needs and the thousands of floor plans I had looked at, I lack the artistic/architectural ability necessary to come up with an elevation.
Likewise, I wanted some kind of vaulted ceiling in the family room, but I didn't have any idea of what kind nor which type of roof line would look best.
Some of the builders we talked to provided sketches or even full drawings of elevations.
One builder, Roger Craft of Craft Classic Homes, was showing us some of his houses, both completed and under construction (which all builders will do), and we liked one in particular that had a family room with a 20' ceiling and a loft overlooking it. We told him to make our family room like that (adding a loft over the kitchen to our floor plan) and to come up with an exterior elevation for the house.
We were very happy with his drawings, and that was one of the many reasons we chose him.
If you buy a floor plan from a magazine or use one of a builder's stock floor plans, you will probably want to make some changes to it. (If not, you can probably save time, money, and aggravation by buying a used house or a builder's spec house.)
Everyone tells you to make all your changes to the floor plan BEFORE building starts, as that is a lot cheaper than changes made during construction. I swore that after all the time I had spent coming up with and refining our floor plan, I would not be one of those people who made changes after building started. Hah!
If you visit your home every day the way we have, you WILL see things that could not be seen from the plans and that you will want to change.
Fortunately, Roger Craft was always very cooperative about making changes. Of course, it DOES cost more when you make changes during construction, but if you have made the decision that you think that the changes are worth the cost, you don't want the additional aggravation of having to fight with the builder over getting the changes made.
Unless you don't expect to visit the house during construction, you and your builder should have an agreement before you start for how changes can be made, no matter how sure you are that you are not going to make changes.
If you have made specifications for how you want things done in building your house, requiring Change Orders for any changes to those specs can, in theory, offer you protection from your specs not being followed. However, if the builder does not follow your specs, then at best, changing whatever he has already done to meet your specs may significantly delay completion of the house and at worst, changing to your specs may just not be feasible and you will have to live with whatever he has done.
Perhaps more significant (from your perspective) than changes which you make are changes which the builder makes either by overlooking your specs or by making important decisions about how unexpected situations should be handled without asking you.
The first step in preventing this is to go over every inch of the house in your mind and write down everything that you want to be a certain way, including a requirement that the electrician, cabinet builder, painter, and marble/mirror installer talk to you personally before starting work.
You may assume that something will be done a certain way, but if it is not and you do not have it in writing, you have little recourse. Even if you do specify things, if your specs are not followed, you cannot always enforce them, so the most important thing is to do everything you can in advance to make sure that the builder is aware of your specs and how you want things to be done. For more on this click here.
Following is an example of something you may never think about when planning your house can become significant when you begin living there.
Water Faucet Placement:
|It is easy to overlook things which go outside the house, such as electrical and water outlets. The rental house we lived in while buildiing did not have a water faucet by the front of the garage, so to wash the car, we had to stretch two hoses from the far corner of the house; we barely got a trickle. So for this house, we knew to specify a water faucet by the garage, but we did not think to specify one on the right, as well as the left, side of the house, front and back, and we wish we had.|
Builders tend to put water faucets in the middle of walls which will
be covered by shrubs after a few years, making them difficult to get to.
(The inset shows the hidden faucet; click it for an enlargement)
After a few years of struggling, we added water faucets in more convenient places, including the following two.
|If you have a long driveway, like we do, the street end of the driveway may be too far to stretch a hose. The sprinkler system backflow valve goes out by the street, and it costs very little to have a faucet attached to the sprinkler system's water pipe. Since this pipe is removed and stored during the winter, you don't even have to worry about the faucet's freezing.|
This faucet, installed near the deck steps between the house and the
garage, is handy when power washing the deck, mixing weed or insect
killers, filling sprinkler cans or water jugs, spot-watering plants or
when washing up after working outdoors. We don't even have to bend over
to use it.
In planning Judy's house (below), we specified that the water faucets be placed in convenient locations instead of in the middle of walls. (Not pictured is a faucet near the garage access door on the right side of the house.)
Kay's sister, Judy, moved to HSV after visiting us here. As discussed in Choosing A Lot, we "helped" her pick a lot (we chose it, she paid for it).
Judy was looking for a moderately sized plan which would take advantage of the views of the common property behind her lot.
This plan has a lot of similarities to the Lynnwood plan further up the page (but flipped). It has a larger "Bedroom 2" because Judy wanted plenty of room to work on her craft projects and to store supplies.
Taking a cue from our own floor plan, we made sure that the laundry room connected to the master closet to avoid carrying loads around the house to wash and put away.
We first assumed that Judy's house would be on pier and beam foundation, but it appeared to both me and her builder that her lot was flat enough for a slab, so she could save money by having a stamped, dyed concrete patio in the back instead of a wooden deck. In addition, she will never have the expense of maintaining a wooden deck, as we have at our house (where we recently paid $1000+ to get our deck resealed).
When the lot was cleared of the thick stand of trees and brush, we could see that the lot was not as flat as we thought, and the builder (Buss Construction) went back to pier-and-beams. Since we already had a contract, he did not charge any more and he agreed to still do a dyed concrete slab patio in back
We spec-ed the house to have flat 9' ceilings throughout, but Buss offered to step-up the master bedroom ceiling and make the master bath ceiling vaulted. This turned out not to be a trivial task. (See pictures of framing.)
To maximize the view and the amount of light coming in, we specified a wall of windows across the living and dining areas:
These are 3' wide by 6' high windows with 3'x1' transoms above each one and a glass patio door in the center, making a total of a 27'x7' length of glass . Two windows on each side of the door will open for ventilation.
We were concerned about having so many big windows because the back of the house faces west, but the thick forest of tall trees very close to the back of the house provided sufficient shade.
We also specified windows with Low-e and very low (.30-.32) heat gain (SHGC) and heat loss (U-factor) ratings. As long as we're getting technical, I'll mention the VT rating, which indicates the amount of light (read: glare) which comes in. A VT rating of .6 appears clear to the naked eye. A VT of .5 or lower indicates that the window is tinted.
In addition to some small, but specific details on the plan, such as the location of outdoor water faucets and lights, we included two pages, single-spaced, of specifications for builders to use in bidding. Based on my experience with Judy's house, I have revised the way I would do the list of specs. (See this page.)
On the change order to switch back from slab to pier and beam, I added the following specs:
* After the house was completed, the pest control company said that it is against state code to spray the crawl space of a house which has no ventilation holes. We specified this because it was recommended in a magazine published by an Arkansas utility company. Further research found many more web sites saying that the code is out-of-date and not in touch with current thinking that such holes let in more moisture than they let out. Still, it is the code and has to be followed at the present.
** When our house was renovated and new tile installed, the contractor had the tile installed onto Ditra which is supposed to help prevent cracks. Now we would specify this for any new house, though it is pretty expensive, it is probably worth it.
We did not specify roof type (gabled or hip) because Judy didn't care (but gabled is a little cheaper).
We specified a number of details which do not cost much, but which builders generally do not put in unless told because they are looking to save every dollar they can. These are things we did not know to specify when building our house and either had to add later or do without (in the case of the first item).
Use the previous link to see all the specifications we made.
I've spent years studying home building and being involved in at least the decision-making of building several homes, so excuse me for thinking that I knew a little something.
When I ran into a truly experienced, knowledgeable builder (Jim Buss of Buss Construction), I was shocked at how much I did NOT know, and thus had not specified. In addition to those things, I tried to cover smaller things by saying that unspecified items in the contruction should be "industry standard", which in actuality allows the builder to take whatever shortcuts he chooses. Fortunately, Buss went the other way and gave us top quality and important features which I neglected to specify.
Here are some examples: